The first two rounds of the 2023 NCAA Tournament are complete. The dust has settled, and now we're left with a Sweet 16 field that has teams meeting their pre-tournament expectations mixed with a few surprises coming out of the opening weekend.
Princeton, the 15 seed in the South Region and only double-digit seed remaining, is the headliner of the group of teams to exceed their seed-line expectation by starting outside of the committee's top 16 teams (4 seed or better) and make it to the Sweet 16. In addition to the Tigers, that group includes 9-seed FAU, 8-seed Arkansas, 7-seed Michigan State, 6-seed Creighton, 5-seed Miami and 5-seed San Diego State.
But while 2023 NCAA Tournament will always be recognized for the biggest upset in tournament history with 16-seed FDU taking down 1-seed Purdue, and another 15-seed making it through to the second weekend, there are several teams who have met the expectation of emerging from the chaos of opening weekend. This is a Sweet 16 field that includes four of the top six and 11 of the committee's top 20 teams with only one or two — Princeton definitely, FAU maybe — that we could identify as a potential Cinderella. Mid-bracket teams have made great impressions, and there are a couple top seeds that have looked shaky, all of which is taken into consideration as we reshuffle the deck.
So with new information based on two NCAA Tournament wins for these teams, it's time to rerank the remaining field as the Sweet 16 looms ahead this week.
|The Crimson Tide showed excellence on both sides of the ball across the two-game run in Birmingham, first with a blistering offensive showcase against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and then one of the team's best defensive performances of the year shutting down Maryland in the second round. The offensive excellence in the first game allowed Nate Oats to rest All-American Brandon Miller extensively, and any concern about his zero-point score line in that game should be alleviated by his workload (34 minutes) and production (19 points, seven rebounds) in the second-round win. Alabama exemplifies a team that definitely does not want to reseed the tournament prior to the Sweet 16, because its competition in the South Regional are No. 7, No. 14 and No. 16 in this ranking. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 1|
|All the warning signs were on following a narrow win against Northern Kentucky and the news that not only had Marcus Sasser reaggravated his groin injury, but fellow guard Jamal Shead was also dealing with a knee injury. The situation appeared more dire than the players made it seem heading into the Cougars' second-round game against Auburn, but that's probably stemming from the confidence built into a program that's now reached the Sweet 16 in three straight seasons. Houston was excellent on the glass and around the rim against the Tigers, making everything difficult and dominating the second half in a 17-point win. Sasser and Shead each played more than 31 minutes and finished with double-digit scoring efforts. The warning signs are gone, and this is a team well-positioned to play for a national championship in its home city. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 2|
|The Bruins are down their best defensive player, a player who coach Mick Cronin has been describing as "the best defensive player in the country," and yet UCLA displayed some elite basketball in back-to-back wins over UNC Asheville and Northwestern. The absence of Clark has inspired the rest of the team to raise its level of defensive intensity, and the shot-making of Jaime Jaquez is perfect for critical possessions in this tournament format where the game slows down and every bucket can be a huge swing in leverage. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 5|
|Here's the first big shakeup. I've got the 4-seed Huskies jumping ahead of the remaining 2 seed and two 3 seeds, but that speaks to the way Dan Hurley's handled business in the opening rounds. UConn beat Iona and Saint Mary's by a combined 29 points, displaying a level of defensive intensity and efficiency that bodes well for what will be a much more difficult challenge ahead in the West Regional. The predictive metrics and power ratings have always been higher on the Huskies than the committee, and since this is a power ranking of sorts, we also have some course correction on that here. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 13|
|Though Texas has been in control throughout much of its tournament campaign, the wild swings in 3-point shooting show a ceiling and a floor for the Longhorns offense as we move ahead into the second weekend. On Thursday, we saw Sir'Jabari Rice lead a white-hot 13-for-23 effort from behind the arc in a 20-point win against Colgate. Then, on Saturday, the team combined to shoot 1-for-13 from three in a five-point win against Penn State. The same team, in the same building, with two wildly different offensive performances. Ultimately, if you're buying Texas stock, it's in response to the team's depth, senior leadership and defensive excellence. All of those things remain constant, so Texas is a top team remaining in the field. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 6|
|The program with the nation's largest active win streak (11) is also now the program with the longest streak of consecutive Sweet 16 appearances (8) after pulling away in a second-round thriller with 6-seed TCU. While it was a high-scoring game (84-81), the efficiency was down from Gonzaga's standard. Luckily, All-American Drew Timme answered the call with 28 points and eight rebounds on a workmanlike 12-of-21 shooting night to power the Zags into the next round. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 10|
|I might be a little too bullish on Creighton's adjustment, as sliding the Bluejays up has resulted in some real out-of-sorts rankings in lower spots, but the combined quality of competition and how this team met those challenges might be as impressive as any other team remaining. Beating NC State was a dogfight, going head-to-head to with two explosive guards, and that was followed up with a stellar showing against Baylor, the third-place team from the Big 12. Only Arkansas, Michigan State and Princeton can also say they reached the Sweet 16 by beating two major conference teams, and while scheduling is out of anyone's control, it's notable when considering how to value the wins. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 22|
|Marquis Nowell alone has been a top-five player in this NCAA Tournament with 44 points and 23 assists across both of Kansas State's wins. This team had some hiccups in the second half of the season, including a one-and-done showing in the Big 12 Tournament, but resiliency instilled by first-year head coach Jerome Tang was on full display as the Wildcats continued to battle through a poor shooting day, only to catch fire late and snatch the win away from Kentucky in the second half. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 11|
|After first downgrading the Vols for letting an 18-point lead evaporate in the final 11 minutes against Louisiana, there had to be an upgrade for the way Tennessee absolutely put the clamps on a streaking Duke team to advance to the program's first Sweet 16 since 2019. If any team in this tournament gets caught playing a game on Tennessee's terms, like Duke did on Saturday or even No. 1 overall seed Alabama did earlier this year, it will be in big trouble. The challenge for Tennessee is imposing its will, which is something that will get increasingly difficult with each round. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 14|
|The Razorbacks have battled through tons of adversity to reach this point, a third straight Sweet 16 appearance, yet through two wins it still hasn't gotten much production out of arguably its most talented player, Nick Smith. The projected lottery pick in the 2023 NBA Draft and No. 1 prospect in the 2022 recruiting class has six combined points in the tournament while juniors Ricky Council and Devo Davis have led the way in a pair of physical defensive wins. Beating No. 1 seed Kansas might have be the best win of any team left in the tournament, and so it wasn't hard to bump the Hogs up in the rankings. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 30|
|Beating USC and Marquette came on the back of two great defensive efforts as Michigan State is playing some classic Tom Izzo basketball with defense, rebounding and trips to the Sweet 16. One of the best in the game on a quick-turnaround in the tournament, Izzo had the Spartans ready to jump all over 2-seed Marquette early and eventually pulled away with a nine-point win. It is not overreaching to suggest that Michigan State is not only playing above its 2023 standard but has turned in two of the team's four or five best performances of the entire season here in the tournament. The original seed represents Sparty's full body of work, but our ranking has to reflect the team's recent form. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 26|
|I think Xavier fans should be encouraged with how the Musketeers responded to Kennesaw State's challenge on Friday afternoon in Greensboro, North Carolina, needing to lock down on defense and come up with huge stops late to avoid the early exit. But it was a substandard performance -- one of a couple substandard performances across the last five games. That's what made Sunday's thorough 84-73 win against Pitt a bit more reassuring as Xavier controlled the game from start to finish and led by as many 20 in the final minutes. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 12|
|The Hurricanes are trouble for teams that go through defensive lapses, and that's exactly what happened to Indiana in an 85-69 Miami win that was among the more stunning results of Sunday's second round. That showing was a direct flip from the early-game struggles on Friday against Drake, but more reflective of a team that was among the best offensive teams in the ACC all season. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 20|
|Brian Dutcher's Aztecs are playing with a lot of confidence right now, and it all starts on the defensive end of the floor. But San Diego State did catch a nice break from the bracket, drawing Furman in the second round, so while a team like Michigan State might get a bump for beating USC and Marquette the resume for SDSU more remains the same after wins against a 12 seed and 13 seed in the first two rounds of the tournament. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 17|
|Now 33-3 after beating Memphis by one point and FDU by eight, FAU is making program history at every turn here in 2023. This team is deep, boasts multiple 3-point threats who convert around 40% of their attempts from behind the arc and plays with a ton of bounce. Whether this amazing run continues into the Elite Eight will depend on who wins the battle of contrasting styles as FAU faces off against Tennessee in one of the East Regional semifinals. If shots are falling over the Vols' lockdown defense, we could see the Owls keep flying. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 33|
|From the 15-seed line to the 16th overall seed remaining in the tournament, Princeton just put together one of the best pair of wins in the field. The Tigers beat 2-seed Arizona in a low-scoring grinder before blowing 7-seed Missouri out of the water with lights-out shooting from deep. In both games, the consistency was a high level of defensive performance against major conference competition, which is why Creighton might be in trouble on Friday. Original NCAA Tournament seed: 61|